Archive for August, 2009|Monthly archive page

Disney plagiarizes… itself?

LotRO Fast Travel Options

Lord of the Rings Online has a huge, immersive world, and the designers have chosen to limit travel options there in keeping with the lore, and to increase the players’ perception of the world’s size.  I agree with this concept in theory, but in practice I often find that I really want to be able to get places faster.  Consequently I pay a lot of attention to the various travel options in-game.  The zones of Forochel and Eregion treat travel rather differently from the zones that came before, and I’ll focus largely on these two zones here.

First, how did fast travel work before these zones were introduced?  Basically, there were five options for fast travel.  First, all the lowbie zones can be accessed by any character at any time for the low, low price of 1 silver piece (or 80 copper with the new discount for longtime players) by visiting an NPC stable; said stables offer normal travel to close locations and fast travel to all newbie hubs.  This is a spectacular idea and one I warmly welcomed when it was implemented long ago (I think it was in closed beta, might have been shortly after launch though).  This means e.g. a player in Bree can spend 1s and travel very quickly to Michel Delving in the Shire, which in practice means lowbies can easily and cheaply join up and adventure in any of the lowbie zones.  Second, the larger mid-to-high level quest hubs (e.g. Esteldin, Rivendell) have fast travel options that are gated by level – e.g. any character lvl  40+ can fast travel between a stable in South Bree and a stable in Rivendell.  Third, all races have deeds available from lvl 29 onwards that allow characters to jump to their racial home once per hour (Dwarves to Thorin’s Halls, Hobbits to Michel Delving, Men to Bree, Elves to Rivendell).  Fourth, all characters have a map they can use to jump to their bind-spot once per hour; pretty much every quest hub in game offers a milestone one can bind to, so characters can quickly travel to more or less any place they’ve been before.  Fifth and finally, home-owners and members of kinships with kin halls can jump to their homes or kin halls once per hour as well.

While these options are nice, more options are desirable, and with the advent of Forochel, Turbine experimented a bit with a new process.  Subsequently, they decided they didn’t like this idea and scrapped it in favor of a new one, which is found in Eregion (and Moria as well).  I’ve not spent enough time in Lothlorien to be sure what fast travel options exist there so I’ll leave that out of this discussion.

When visiting Forochel, one is quickly struck by two things: first, the zone is massive, and it takes a loooong time to run around, or even to ride from one quest hub to another using the stable horses (NPC travel options).  Second, the zone is blindingly white and full of snow and fog, which increases the player’s perception that travel takes a long time.  Objectively, it’s not really larger than several other zones, but it feels like it is because the player’s view of distant objects is obscured.  Turbine chose to make the fast travel options in Forochel all bound to reputation – so initially, characters have no fast travel to, from, or within Forochel, and options open up the more reputation a character gains with the Lossoth of Forochel, and with the other factions surrounding them.  That is to say, if you want to travel within Forochel, you’d better befriend the Lossoth.  If you want to travel to Forochel from somewhere else, or from Forochel to somewhere else, then you’d better befriend the people in that said somewhere else.  So e.g. to travel between Forochel and Bree-land requires befriending the Men of Bree; travel to and from Rivendell requires befriending the Elves of Rivendell, etc.

How well does this system work?  In practice, all the characters I took to Forochel (which is incidentally a lvl 42-50 zone) failed to significantly benefit from the fast travel options.  By the time they had enough reputation with the Lossoth to gain fast travel there, they didn’t need it; in the process of gaining that reputation they’d completed all the quests already, or all I cared to do.  Few of my characters had enough reputation with surrounding factions to benefit from the fast travel to and from Forochel, either, and it didn’t generally seem worth my time to grind rep for that purpose.  There is one exception here: completing all the quests at the first two quest hubs in Forochel yields Acquaintance standing, which in turn unlocks fast travel between Ost Forod in Evendim and the second quest hub in Forochel, which is smack in the middle of Forochel’s icy wastes.  That’s convenient if one continues to quest there.  By and large though the fast travel concept in Forochel didn’t work all that well for providing greater convenience to players – it took a lot of time and work to unlock the options and the fast travel rewards came too late.

By contrast, in Eregion, fast travel is unlocked by deeds, which are completed by finishing quests in the zone.  After completing the first 10 quests in Eregion, one unlocks fast travel to the first Eregion quest hub; one can then travel to Gwingris from any connecting stable, be that in Rivendell or one of the other Eregion hubs.  This option becomes available before one’s completed all the quests at the first hub, which means it remains useful in practical terms for the player.  Likewise, completing more quests in Eregion completes successive deeds, unlocking fast travel to the 3 other quest hubs there.  As one quests and spends time there, fast travel options open up organically over time, providing a natural progression that’s rewarding and useful.  By the time one’s completed most of the quests in Eregion, one can fast travel to all 4 quest hubs, or between those hubs and Rivendell.

This concept worked well, and is mirrored in Moria.  Moria is divided into the Central Halls, Upper Halls, and Lower Halls; completing quests in each of these areas unlocks fast travel to various quest hubs in these areas.  This requires a greater time investment than Eregion did, but then there are a lot more quests in Moria than in Eregion.  Moria’s fast travel options require a bit more deliberate effort on the part of the player than Eregion’s do, which I regard as a bit unfortunate; overall, Eregion’s fast travel design is the most enjoyable for me in game.

There’s another type of fast travel that doesn’t involve stables, which is available to certain classes.  Hunters can transport themselves and fellowship members to various places around the world, and Wardens can transport themselves only.  Both Captains and Guardians have abilities related to summoning fellowship members to each other’s locations, but that doesn’t really pertain to the type of travel being discussed here.  I’ll focus here on the Hunter since that’s the only class that can transport both the character and fellowship members from one place to another.

Hunters gain the ability to jump to various locations based on 4 different approaches: trainers, quests, reputation, and deeds.  Trainers will sell Hunters the ability to port to the more common places – that’s simple enough, and becomes available to all Hunters at various levels based on the locations in question.  Some locations, like Tinnudir in Evendim, require completion of a special local quest in order to unlock the Hunter’s port.  Both Forochel and Moria require a Hunter to gain a low amount of reputation with local factions (Acquaintance in both cases) before the Hunter is allowed to buy the skill to port there.  Eregion is however the only zone that has the Hunter port unlocked by completing a deed.  In this case, a Hunter must explore all the major ruins and major animal dens of the zone to complete two local deeds; completion of both deeds unlocks the ability to port to Eregion’s third quest hub, Echad Dunann, which lies at the western entrance of Moria.

Of the options listed above, the one I most enjoyed was Eregion’s.  It felt natural and fitting for a Hunter to simply explore the area and learn it well enough to be able to travel safely and quickly there.  This also encourages exploration, obviously, since one must travel all over the zone to complete the deeds.  One could, in theory, unlock the ability to fast travel to Suri-kyla in Forochel or to Moria’s 21st Hall without ever having been to those places (you can gain enough rep to be Acquaintance pretty easily in both zones, and a friend could buy the skill scrolls for the travel powers – you need only be Acquaintance to use the scroll and learn the skill, not to buy the scroll in the first place).  That’s frankly a little silly.

Sith Lords in Middle-earth

I’ve really been enjoying the Rune-keeper (RK) class, one of the two new classes added to LotRO in the Moria expansion.  The class is a bit like a Hunter and a bit like a Minstrel in gameplay; never both at the same time through really.  The class skills are divided into two main groups: massive damage or heals over time.  The more of one sort of skill one uses in a given fight, the more options become available – thus if e.g. I use my damage skills to kill something, as the fight progresses my more powerful damage spells get unlocked, but at the same time I lose access to my more powerful healing skills.  This process is known as attunement.  It’s a delicate balance and I think is handled very well.

The class has a nice daze skill, which takes a foe out of combat for 5-10 seconds (or 10-15 seconds if traited).  There’s also a short duration stun that works more often the stronger one’s battle attunement.  Otherwise, the options are overwhelming force or strong healing.  When soloing, that’s a pretty clear choice. 😉  It is possible to throw a couple of heal-over-time skills up before a fight, then go heavy into damage, and using this approach my RK has been able to consistently solo ‘red’ mobs (~5 levels higher) when need be.  Correspondingly, my RK, whom I only started playing a couple of weeks ago, hit lvl 45 the other night.

<rant>There’s been some concern in the community that the RK violates the lore of Middle-earth by providing spell effects that are too flashy; one can shoot lightning from one’s hands (“your feeble skills are no match for the dark side!”), rain down fire upon one’s foes, or summon a hailstorm.  To those who say this violates the lore, I respond, “go read the books again!”  This is a pet peeve of mine; there’s actually rather a lot of overt, flashy magic in Tolkien’s works yet people so often forget this.  In the Silmarillion, the tale of Beren and Luthien has some of the most extreme examples of flashy magic of which I’ve read… multiple characters use illusion magic to change their appearances into vampires and werewolves, use songs to literally tear towers down and scatter stones, and charm even Morgoth into a magical sleep.  In the Lord of the Rings, Gandalf calls down fire from the heavens on the wargs who attack the Fellowship in Eregion, leaving the whole hilltop scorched (the location is of course in game: the Burnt Tor).  Later when Minas Tirith is beseiged by the Nazgul, Gandalf fires a massive bolt of light into the sky, driving them off and dispelling the magical fear they brought.  Elrond caused a river to flood, washing away the Nazgul, and Gandalf made the rushing water form the shape of horses just because he felt like it.  Hells, four of the main characters (or technically five, though Bilbo and Frodo shared the same weapon) had weapons that glowed!  Even Bilbo’s grandfather, the Old Took, had magical cufflinks that remained attached until removed, and could never be lost.  Magic in Middle-earth is neither weak nor hidden nor especially rare.  </rant>

Keep your hands off my Sith Lord wannabe!  He belongs in Middle-earth dammit.  Now excuse me a moment while I blast these orcs into cinders.